Straight from its success winning the BCCC Freelander Championship, Team Sheepie has just successfully competed in the Wales Rally GB. Driver Ian Linford takes up the story…
After winning the Freelander Challenge, we spent the next two weeks prepping the car to compete in Wales Rally GB, where the dream started last year. The rally is the final round of the World Rally Championship. Service was at Deeside, at the Toyota engine factory.
We arrived early as we had an 11am scrutinnering slot, as we were booked in to do the official start ceremony on the Thursday night. However, the 'pond' that had caused us so much trouble at the last round of the BCCC, reared it's head again! While on our way to the opening ceremony, the rear props haft bearing seized, but we made it over the start ramp and back to service. Was 'the fat lady' warming up already? However, by 6.30 the next morning the bearings were done and we were ready to start the rally on time.
Friday was to be a long day as we had a two-and-a-half-hour drive to the first stage alone. The car performed without a fault on the first day's 45 stage miles and made it back to service without a hiccough.
Saturday, everything just clicked in the car and we flew. The stages were fast and flowing, and I relaxed in the car, pushing hard (well as hard as you can in a 1.8-litre). We started to climb up the standings. Saturday did see a lot of cars going off, with one EVO looking like a ball of scrap at the bottom of a large drop. When the pace notes say 'long 6 right, air on outside' they ain't kidding! One drop must have been at least 300-foot straight down. Again we got back to service and a quick check round and home for tea again. Our £350 gem had performed without a fault.
It was nice to have so many people come to find us in service and chat about the team and most of all, about the Freelander 1. Even the TV presenter came and apologised after comments he made on Friday evening, and said how good it was to see a car being thrown into the corners sideways, and not just driven round like some of the bigger engined four-wheel-drive 'cars'.
Sunday was a late start. We weren't due out of service until 12.12pm and there were only 15 miles of stages today, with two passes through Kimel Park, followed by two mores stages back in the forests. This was a day to back off and take it easy, with no championship points to chase, this was a day to achieve the dream and finish Wales Rally GB.
I'd love to know what the marshals at the finish of the last stages must have thought as our Freelander 1 pulled up at the stop board with two occupants in it bouncing around inside and screaming. We had done it! Now, all we had to do was drive to the official finish line. With one final power wash at Conway Land Rover we headed for the finish ramp.
Crossing over that ramp was, as they say, 'a dream come true'. A dream that started in that same place one year before, watching a team cross over that same finish ramp; a team that we had beaten just two weeks before, to become the Freelander Challenge Champions of 2014.
And how did we finish? Well, not last out of 95 starters. In the National event, we managed 58th overall out of 70 finishers. In our class, 18 started, 12 finished and we managed 7th, not bad.
So what next for Team Sheepie? First and foremost, a defence of out title, so we will be back for next year's BCCC. Planning has started for next year's Wales Rally GB, probably in the Freelander 1 but we are looking at a Renault 5! One major change will be a second Freelander 1 for the BCCC. Yep! We're planning to run a second car next year. The driver has been selected and we are pleased to announce that Louisa Felica will be stepping up from the service crew to drive the number two car.
We will hopefully have both cars out at other rallies through the year so come. Find us and say hello, kettle's always on.
Thinking about buying a Freelander 1? Make sure you pick the right one by checking out our buyer's guide here.